"Oh what an ordinary day/ take out the garbage, masturbate," goes the opening line to "Birth In Reverse," the first single off of St. Vincent's (a.k.a. Annie Clark) self-titled fourth album. The seemingly incidental line illuminates why Clark might be one of the most fascinating songwriters of the last five years; she has a knack for identifying and analyzing society's unspoken banalities, turning them into universalities with which any honest listener could identify.
St. Vincent finds her flipping the script musically, too. Clark blurs sounds as if alchemically: Is that a guitar or a synth on opener "Rattlesnake"? Is she dialling the urgent riff of album highlight "Bring Me Your Loves" into a guitar, a keyboard or a telephone? Ultimately, it's academic; what's crucial to St. Vincent's excellence is the way Clark balances her sonic explorations with melodies and song structures that keep even her strangest compositions satisfyingly challenging and memorable without ever being either too easy or frustrating.
St. Vincent bears the hallmarks of her influences — "Digital Witness" and "Bring Me Your Loves," album highlights both, bear the rhythmic influence of Byrne and the work of Dap-King percussionist Homer Steinweiss — but in keeping with the album's title, it's unmistakably Clark at work. The meticulous arrangement of "Prince Johnny" recalls the best moments of 2009's Actor, while more kinetic moments ("Regret," "Every Tear Disappears") wring stream-of-consciousness urgency out of the sound of her 2011 LP, Strange Mercy.
By the time St. Vincent explodes climactically in the last minute of closer "Severed Crossed Fingers," Clark has made the beautiful ugly, the ugly beautiful and the difference between them nearly indistinguishable. If that sounds pretty complex and incredible, you've got a pretty good idea what listening to St. Vincent is like. (Loma Vista/Republic Records)